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Vol. iV No. 4 



Original Sources of European History 

ORDEALS, compurgation, EXCOMMUN 

(revised edition) 
Edited by Arthur C. Rowland, Ph.D. 


no. 4 


The Department of History of the University of Po^^sylvanta 


University of Pennsylvania Press 



NORTHEASTERN U^^\/j:o^}tv nor, a^^^J<^0.1. v»o>r^ 

VoL. JV No. 4 



Original Sources of European History 

ORDEALS, compurgation, EXCOMMUN 

(revised edition) 
Edited by Arthur C. Hovvland, Ph.D. 


no. 4 


The Department of History of the University of Penxsvlvania 


University of Pennsylvania Press 


price 30 CENTS 






Translations and Reprints X'^if 

no. H 

Ordeals, Compurgation, Excommunication 
AND Interdict. 

Vol. IV. 

No. 4. 



I. Compurgation. 

1. Examples of Compurgatorial Oaths 3 

2. Com-purgation of Queen Fredegonda 3 

3. Compurgation of Adelher's Brothers 4 

4. C( mpurgation of Bishop Norgaud 5 

5. Fiisiaii Law against Perjury . ... 6 

6. Reform in the Compurgatorial System 6 

n. Judgments of God— Ordeai^. 

1. Ordeal Formula 7 

2. Ordeal of Hot Water lo 

3. Ordeal of Cold Water il 

4. Ordeal of Red-Hot Iron 12 

5. Ordeal of the Glowing Ploughshares 13 

6. Ordeal of Fire 14 

7. Ordeal of the Cross 15 

8. Skepticism Regarding the Ordeal 16 

9. Prohibition of the Ordeal by the Church 16 

10. Prohibition by Frederic II 18 

III. Judgments of God— Wager of Battle. 

1. Example of Judicial Duel in Germany 19 

2. Example of Judicial Duel in Spain 20 

3. Prohibition of Judicial Duel by Frederic II 21 

IV. Excommunication. 

St. Cyprian on the Unity of the Church 22 

St, Ambrose's Threat against Theodosius, . .22 

State Aid in the Enforcement of Excommunication . . 23 

Excommunication of Frederic II. 24 

Example of Excommunication ipso /ado 25 

Excommunication of Animals 25 

Declaration of Louis XIV 26 


1. Canon of the Council of Limoges 27 

2. Interdict laid on Normandy 28 

3. Interdict laid on France. 29 

4. Interdict laid on Venice in 1309 30 

5. Interdict laid on Utrecht 31 

6. Failure of the Interdict laid on Venice in 1606 . . .31 



In the jurisprudence of the Middle Ages we do not find any trial in the modern 
sense of the word, no careful weighing of testimony followed by a decision in accord- 
ance with the evidence. The chief function of the court was to give a fore-judgment 
—the Beweisurh'i/— indicating which litigant was to have the privilege of offering 
proof as to the justice of his contention. Any form of compromise was unknown. 
One party was entirely in the right, the other absolutely in the wrong. The methods 
of proof were compurgation, ordeal and wager of battle, and the party on whom the 
burden of proof lay usually had the advantage in the subsequent proceedings. This 
was especially the case with compurgation, where compliance with the minute details 
of the prescribed forms insured complete success. In the ordeal this was less true, 
the result oftener dependtng on the attitude of those conducting the ceremony. The 
judicial duel and one form of the ordeal— that of the cross— were the only methods 
of procedure in which both sides were given the opportunity of proof. Throughout 
the Middle Ages the theory of the law placed the burden of proof on the negative 
side; and it may be counted a most important step in the progress of European civili- 
zation when the Germanic idea finally gave place to the Roman maxim that it is 
impossible to prove a negative, and that the necessity of producing evidence lies with 
the accuser. The barbarian system of negative proofs was worked out by means of 
oaths and of appeals to the judgment of God through ordeals and single combat. 
Whatever hardships the Germanic methods of proof may have involved theoretically, 
the practical outcome was to make easy the escape of bold criminals. A Hungarian 
manuscript * in which a record was kept for the 13th century, shows the numbers of 
convictions and of acquittals in the ordeal of hot iron to be about equal, while in 
England the accused was in certain cases given the choice whether he or the accuser 
should bear the iron. Speaking of the condition of things in John's reign Maitland 
says: "Criminal justice was extremely ineffectual; the punishment of a-criminal was 
a rare event; the law may have been cruel . . . ., but bloody it was not. In Henry 
III.'s time some satisfactory hanging was accomplished, but the number of present- 
ments of undiscovered crime is very large." t The irrationality of such forms of 
legal procedure was strongly felt by the most enlightened minds, and from the middle 
of the 1 2th century we find ecclesiastical as well as secular legislation attempting to 
bring about a change. This reform did not involve the abandonment of negative 
proofs, but brought in the worst form of that system, namely, torture, wherein the 
chances of escape were reduced to a minimum and conviction became practically 


Compurgation — or wager of law as it was more commonly called in England, from 
the legal phrase vadiare legem , to pledge or wage one's law — consisted in a litigant's 
furnishing the court satisfactory proof of the justice of his cause by means of his own 

♦ Cited in Pollock and Maitland's History of English Law, II., 596, note 5. 
+ Select Pleas of the Crowti, p. xxiv. 


oath supported by that of helpers or compurgators who swore to the truth of their 
principal's assertions. This method of proof dates back to remote antiquity among 
the Germanic tribes, and on their conversion it was adopted by the church, which 
made such extensive use of it in its efforts to secure immunity of the clergy from secu- 
lar jurisdiction that the process finally became known as canonical compurgation. 
The compurgators were originally kinsmen, who would have had to pay the wer-gild 
in case the accused had been convicted of the charge, but later custom permitted 
them to be neighbors or others acceptable to the court. Their number varied accord- 
ing to the granty of the charge and the character of the accused. It is probable that 
even in the earliest times compurgation was not resorted to when the proof of the 
crime was plain and indubitable, and at a later period this rule was carefully enforced, 
it being left to the discretion of the judge whether the accused should be allowed this 
form of trial or not. Such permission was almost tantamount to acquittal, yet an 
effort was made to check the abuses of the system by the provision that compurgators 
who were so unfortunate as to support a losing cause should be punished as perjurers, 
that is, should have one hand cut off. Some codes, however, permitted the redemp- 
tion of the hand by the payment of a money fine. At an early period confidence in the 
system became weakened, but it was not until the revival of the study of Roman law 
about the middle of the 12th century that compurgation, together with most forms of 
appeal to the judgment of God, began to lose ground in mediaeval jurisprudence. 
From that time on it was discouraged by royal legislation. By 1300 it may be said 
to have disappeared from the king's court in France, though it still lingered for a long 
time in the provinces. In Germany it seems to have flourished as late as the i6th 
century, as also in most of the countries of northern Europe; while in England it was 
not formally abolished until 1833. In ecclesiastical courts the system was employed 
down to the 17th century, though the development of the inquisitorial process in the 
13th century deprived it of most of its characteristic features. 


(a) Form. Turon., M.G. LL., Sec. V, p. 154. Latin. 8th century. 

[Defendant made oath denying the crime.] Likewise, witnesses of 

his own order, who were eye-witnesses and cognizant of the facts in 

the case, swore after him that the aforesaid N. had given a true and 

satisfactory oath in what he had sworn regarding the matter. 

(b) Thorpe's Ancient Laws of England, I, p, 180. loth centur)'. 
By the Lord, the oath which N. has sworn is clean and without 

Gregory of Tours, Hist. Franc. Lib., viii, c. 9, M.G. SS. Mer., p. 330. 
On the assassination of Chilperic I. king Gontran became guardian of his brother's 
infant son. Doubts were entertained as to the child's legitimacy, especially as Chil* 
peric was said to have been murdered by a paramour of queen Fredegonda. The 
latter, however, fully established the paternity of the child by a compurgatorial oath, 
and thus prevented the kingdom of Neustria from passing into the hands of Gontran. 


After this the king [Gontran] went to Paris and openly addressed 
all the people, saying : " My brother Chilperic on his death is said to 
have left a son, whose governors begged me at the mother's sohcitation 
to stand sponsor for him at the baptismal font on the day of the 
festival of our Lord's birth ; but they did not appear. Next they asked 
me to have him baptised at Easter, but the child was not brought then. 
For the third time they prayed me that he might be presented for the 
sacred rite on St. John's Day, but the child was still kept back. And 
so they have compelled me to leave home at this disagreeable season 
of the year. Therefore I have come, and behold, the boy is con- 
cealed, he is not shown me. For these reasons I feel certain that 
matters are not as they have been represented, but that the child is, 
as I believe, the son of some one of our nobles. For, if it had been 
of our race, it would have been brought to me. Know, therefore, that 
I will not acknowledge it until I receive satisfactory proofs of its 
paternity." When queen Fredegonda heard this she summoned the 
chief men of her kingdom, namely, three bishops and three hundred 
nobles, and with them made oath that Chilperic was the father of the 
child. By this means suspicion was removed from the king's mind. 


Passio S. Bonifatii, in Jaff6, Bibliotheca Rer. Germ., Ill, p. 475. Latin. Ilth 


This story illustrates one of the abuses to which the system of compurgation lent 
itself, and at the same time shows how the clergy attempted to overcome it by empha- 
sizing the danger of immediate punishment to the perjurer. 

Some time after this it happened that a certain priest named 
Adelher was stricken with great weakness. He was indeed deeply 
devoted to the bishop [Boniface] on account of his noble character, 
and knowing the lattcr's secrets he served him truly. And when he 
perceived the end of life approaching, by the council of the man of 
God he gave what property he had inherited to St. Martin of Mainz. 
After this, his sickness increasing, he died. Afterwards his brothers 
violently seized what he had given to St. Martin in the following 
places, .... And when they had been summoned and questioned 
regarding their action, they promised to prove by an oath that the 
property was rightly theirs ; and the bishop promised to be present. 
On the appomted day they brought together a large number of their 
relatives. The man of God was likewise there, and when the brothers 


had fetched their compurgators to the altar he is reported to have 
said ; " If ye will swear, swear alone ; I do not desirw that ye should 
cause the damnation of all these." But the brothers took the oath. 
And immediately the bishop turning to them said • " Have ye sworn?" 
" We have," they replied. Then to the elder he said : " Thou wilt 
shortly be killed by a bear;" but to the younger, " Never wilt thou see 
son or daughter from thy seed." Both of the prophecies proved true. 
And so the church of St. Martin received the heritage given to it. 


Hugh of Flavigny, Chron. Lib. II, M.G. SS., VIII, p. 494. Latin. 
Norgaud, Bishop of Autun, had been accused of simony by his canons, and had 
attempted to clear himself by the oath-helpers; but the compurgators were deterred 
by fear of the charge of perjury, and Norgaud was deposed. He refused to resign 
his office, and in the following year succeeded in being reinstated by purging himself 
in the absence of his enemies. The incident shows another form of abuse of the 

In the year of our Lord iioi John, bishop of Frascati, was sent by 

the pope into England to look after the papal property The 

cardinal? had now returned to Rome openly confirming the sentence 
of deposition against the invader of the see of Autun and pronouncing 
it to be canonical by authentic proofs, when the bishop of Lyons began 
openly and publicly to condemn their action. As he was setting out 
on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in company with the bishop af Chalons- 
sur-Saone and the simoniacal bishop of Autun, he was met on the way 
by the aforesaid bishop of Frascati who, in the absence of accusers 
and outside the boundaries of his province, received the purgation of 
him of Autun. The bishop of Lyons aided and confirmed the oath as 
follows : " I believe that Norgaud, bishop ot Autun, has sworn the 
truth, so help me God." The bishop of Chalons-sur-Saone also 
assisted and swore the same thing. 1 am astonished that the good 
judgment of so great a man,* renowned everywhere for his inborn 
goodness and honesty, whose unvarying constancy is venerated by the 
Gallican church, could be deceived by the man to such an extent that 
even to the present time he takes his part as a compurgator, cherishes 
and protects him, and is almost the only one in the world to believe 
good of him, although an almost universal sentiment condemns such 
a favorable opinion. 

• I. e., the bishop of Lyons. 



Lex Fris., xiv, 3, M.G. LL., Ill, p. 668. Latin. About 800. 
As the efficiency of the whole system of compurgation depended upon the confix 
dence that could be placed by the court in the word of the oath-helpers, it was neces- 
sary to make the penalty for false swearing as severe as possible. The punishment 
for perjury varied in different codes. That mentioned in the Frisian law is here given. 

He who seeks the composition for homicide,* let him swear on the 
relics of the saints that he will not accuse any one of this except 
those whom he suspects of the murder ; and then let him accuse of 
homicide one, two, or even three or four or however many there may 
have been that wounded him who was killed. But, though there were 
twenty or thirty, yet no more than seven can be accused, and let each 
one of these who has been accused swear with his twelfth hand,t and 
after the oath let him show himself mnocent by the judgment of God 
in the ordeal of boiling water. Let the one who swore first go first to 
the ordeal, and so on in order. He who shall be found guilty by the 
ordeal, let him pay the composition for homicide, and to the king 
double his wer-gild ; let the others who were his oath-helpers pay the 
iine for perjury as has been previously enacted.J 


Corp. Jur. Can., cc. 5 and 13, Extra, V, 34. Latin. 
Although by the 13th eentury compurgation had come to be looked upon with sus- 
picion by royal judges, it yet continued for a long time an ordinary method of trial for 
the clergy. Innocent III. introduced certain reforms which did away v^ath some of 
the dangers of perjury, but he thereby weakened the force of the oaths and dealt a 
mortal blow to the system. 

We believe you are not ignorant of how many times the bishop of 
Trent has been accused of simony. But the accusers though produc- 
ing a writing were unable to bring forward witnesses according to 
canonical form to prove that he had given the church of St. Peter to 
the presbyter P. for four measures of corn. We decree to the common 
council of our brethren that he ought to purge himself of the aforesaid 
simony with three of his own order and four abbots and regular priests. 
Now the manner of purgation shall be as follows ; First, the bishop 
shall swear on God's sacred Gospel that, for giving the church of St 

♦ In the case of a man killed in a crowd. 

1 1, e., with eleven compurgators. 

X This fine consisted of a single wer-gild each. Vid. Tit. X, eadem lege. 


Peter to the presbyter P., he has received no price personally or by 
the hand of a subordinate, nor to his knowledge has any one accepted 
anything for him. Then the compurgators shall swear upon God's 
holy Gospel that they believe he has spoken the truth. 

But those who are brought forward to purge another of infamy are 
held to affirm this alone by their oaths; namely, that they believe 
that he who is being purged speaks the truth. 



From the breviary of Eberhard of Bamberg, ed. Zeumer in M.G. LL., Sec V, 
Formuloe, p. 650. Latin. 12th or 13th century. 

Let the priest go to the church with the prosecutors and with him 
who is about to be tried. And while the rest wait in the vestibule of 
the church let the priest enter and put on the sacred garments except 
the chasuble and, taking the Gospel and the chrismarium and the 
relics of the saints and the chalice, let him go to the altar and speak 
thus to all the people standing near : Behold, brethren, the offices of 
the Christian religion. Behold the law in which is hope and remission 
of sins, the holy oil of the chrisma, the consecration of the body and 
blood of our Lord. Look that ye be not deprived of the heritage of 
such great blessing and of participation in it by implicating yourselves 
in the crime of another, for it is written, not only are they worthy of 
death who do these things, but they that have pleasure in them that 
do them.t 

Then let him thus address the one who is to undertake the ordeal : 
I command thee, N., in the presence of all, by the Father, the Son, 
and the Holy Ghost, by the tremendous day of judgment, by the 
ministry of baptism, by thy veneration for the saints, that, if thou 
art guilty of this matter charged against thee, if thoa hast done it, or 
consented to it, or hast knowingly seen the perpetrators of this crime, 
thou enter not into the church nor mingle in the company of Christians 
unless thou wilt confess and admit thy guilt before thou art examined 
in public judgment. 

Then he shall designate a spot in the vestibule where the fire is to 
be made for the water, and shall first sprinkle the place with holy 

* This may be taken as a fair example of ordeal formulae in general, as they were 
all of a similar nature. 
tRom. i. 32. 


water, and shall also sprinkle the kettle when it is ready to be hung 
and the water in it, to guard against the illusions of the devil. Then, 
entering the church with the others, he shall celebrate the ordeal mass. 
After the celebration let the priest go with the people to the place of 
the ordeal, the Gospel in his left hand, the cross, censer and relics of 
the saints being carried ahead, and let him chant seven penitential 
psalms with a litany. 

Prayer over the boiling water : O God, just Judge, firm and patient, 
who art the Author of peace, and judgesi truly, determine what is 
right, O Lord, and make known Thy righteous judgment. O Omnip- 
otent God, Thou that lookest upon the earth and makest it to tremble, 
Thou that by the gift of Thy Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, didst save the 
world and by His most holy passion didst redeem the human race, 
sanctify, O Lord, this water being heated by fire. Thou that didst 
save the three youths, Sidrac, Misac, and Abednago, cast into the fiery 
furnace at the command of Nebuchadnezzar, and didst lead them 
forth unharmed by the hand of Thy angel, do Thou O clement and 
most holy Ruler, give aid if he shall plunge his hand into the boiling 
water, being innocent, and, as Thou didst liberate the three youths 
from the fiery furnace and didst free Susanna from the false charge, so, 
O Lord, bring forth his hand safe and unharmed from this water. But 
if he be guilty and presume to plunge in his hand, the devil hardening 
his heart, let Thy holy justice deign to declare it, that Thy virtue may 
be manifest in his body and his soul be saved by penitence and 
confession. And if the guilty man shall try to hide his sins by the 
use of herbs or any magic, let Thy right hand deign to bring it to no 
account. Through Thy only begotten Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, who 
dwelleth with Thee. 

Benediction of the water : I bless thee, O creature of water, boiling 
above the fire, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the 
Holy Ghost, from whom all things proceed ; I adjure thee by Him 
who ordered thee to water the whole earth from the four rivers, and 
who summoned thee forth from the rock, and who changed thee into 
wine, that no wiles of the devil or magic of men be able to separate 
thee fjom thy virtues as a medium of judgment; but mayest thou 
punish the vile and the wicked, and purify the innocent. Through 
Him whom hidden things do not escape and who sent thee in the 
flood over the whole earth to destroy the wicked and who will yet 
come to judge the quick and the dead and the world by fire. Amen. 


Prayer: Omnipotent, Eternal God, we humbly beseech Thee in 
behalf of this investigation which we are about to undertake here 
amongst us that iniquity may not overcome justice but that falsehood 
may be subjected to truth. And if any one seek to hinder or obscure 
this examination by any magic or by herbs of the earth, deign to bring 
it to naught by Thy right hand, O upright Judge. 

Then let the man who is to be tried, as well as the kettle or pot in 
which is the boiling water, be fumed with the incense of myrrh, and 
let this prayer be spoken : O God, Thou who within this substance of 
water hast hidden Thy most solemn sacraments, be graciously present 
with us who invoke Thee, and upon this element made ready by much 
purification pour down the virtue of Thy benediction that this creature, 
obedient to Thy mysteries, may be endued with Thy grace to detect 
diabolical and human fallacies, to confute their inventions and argu- 
ments, and to overcome their multiform arts. May all the wiles of the 
hidden enemy be brought to naught that we may clearly perceive the 
truth regarding those things which we \\ith finite senses and simple 
hearts are seeking from Thy judgment through invocation of Thy holy 
name. Let not the innocent, we beseech Thee, be unjustly condemned, 
or the guilty be able to delude with safety those who seek the truth 
from Thee, who art the true Light, who seest in the shadowy darkness, 
and who makest our darkness light. O Thou who perceivest hidden 
things and knowest what is secret, show and declare this by Thy grace 
and make the knowledge of the truth manifest to us who believe in 

Then let the hand that is to be placed in the water be washed with 
soap and let it be carefully examined whether it be sound ; and before 
it is thrust in let the priest say : I adjure thee, O vessel, by the Father, 
and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and by the holy resurrection, and by 
the tremendous day of judgment, and by the four Evangelists, that if 
this man be guilty of this crime either by deed or by consent, let the 
water boil violently, and do thou, O vessel, turn and swing. 

After this let the man who is to be tried plunge in his hand, and 
afterwards let it be immediately sealed up. After the ordeal let him 
take a drink of holy water. Up to the time of the decision regarding 
the ordeal * it is a good thing to mix salt and holy water with all his 
food and drink. 

A period of three days was allowed to elapse before the hand was examined. 




Gregory of Tours, in Gloria Martyr, c. 80, M.G. SS. Mer. I, p. 542. Latin. 

An Arian presbyter disputing with a deacon of our religion made 
venemous assertions against the Son of God and the Holy Ghost, as 
is the habit of that sect. But when the deacon had discoursed a long 
time concerning the reasonableness of our faith, and the heretic 
blinded by the fog of unbelief continued to reject the truth, according 
as it is written, " Wisdom shall not enter the mind of the wicked," the 
former said ; " Why weary ourselves with long discussions? Let acts 
approve the truth ; let a kettle be heated over the fire and some one's 
ring be thrown into the boiling water. Let him who shall take it from 
the heated liquid be approved as a follower of the truth, and after- 
wards let the other party be converted to the knowledge of this truth. 
And do thou also understand, O heretic, that this our party will fulfil 
the conditions with the aid of the Holy Ghost; thou shalt confess that 
there is no discordance, no dissimilarity in the Holy Trinity." The 
heretic consented to the proposition and they separated after appoint- 
ing the next morning for the trial. But the fervor of faith in which 
the deacon had first made this suggestion began to cool through the 
instigation of the enemy. Rising with the dawn he bathed his arm in 
oil and smeared it with ointment. But nevertheless he made the round 
of the sacred places and called in prayer on the Lord. What more 
shall I say? About the third hour they met in the market place. 
The people came together to see the show. A fire was lighted, the 
kettle was placed upon it, and when it grew very hot the ring was 
thrown into the boiling water. The deacon invited the heretic to take 
it out of the water first. But he promplty refused, saying, " Thou who 
didst propose this trial art the one to take it out." The deacon all 
of a tremble bared his arm. And when the heretic presbyter saw it 
besmeared with ointment he cried out : " With magic arts thou hast 
thought to protect thyself, that thou hast made use of these salves, but 
what thou hast done will not avail." While they were thus quarreling 
there came up a deacon from Ravenna named lacinthus and inquired 
what the trouble was about. When he learned the truth he drew his 
arm out from under his robe at once and plunged his right hand into 
the kettle. Now the ring that had been thrown in was a little thing 
and very light so that it was thrown about by the water as chaff would 


be blown about by the wind; and searching for it a long time he 
found it after about an hour. Meanwhile the flame beneath the kettle 
blazed up mightily so that the greater heat might make it difficult for 
the ring to be followed by the hand; but the deacon extracted it at 
length and suffered no harm, protesting rather that at the bottom the 
kettle was cold while at the top it was just pleasantly warm. When 
the heretic beheld this he was greatly confused and audaciously thrust 
his hand into the kettle saying, " My faith will aid me." As soon as 
his hand had been thrust in all the flesh was boiled off the bones clear 
up to the ellow. And so the dispute ended. 

De Divort. Lotharii, c. vi, in Migne: Patrologia, Vol. 125, col. 668, 669. Latin. 
Now the one about to be examined is bound by a rope and cast 
into the water because, as it is written, each one shall be holden with 
the cords of his iniquity.* And it is evident that he is bound for two 
reasons; to wit, that he may not be able to practice any fraud in 
connection with the judgment, and that he may be drawn out at the 
right time if the water should receive him as innocent, so that he 
perish not. Por as we read that Lazarus, who had been dead four days 
(by whom is signified each one buried under a load of crimes), was 
buried wrapped in bandages and, bound by the same bands, came forth 
from the sepulchre at the word of the Lord and was loosed by the 
disciples at his command ; so he who is to be examined by this judg- 
ment is cast into the water bound, and is drawn forth again bound, 
and is either immediately set free by the judgment of the judges, being 
purged, or remains bound till the time of his purgation and is then 

examined by the court And in this ordeal of cold water 

whoever, after the invocation of God, who is the Truth, seeks to hide 
the truth by a lie, cannot be submerged in the waters above which the 
voice of the Lord God has thundered ; for the pure nature of the water 
recognizes as impure and therefore rejects as inconsistent with itself 
such human nature as has once been regenerated by the waters of 
baptism and is again infected by falsehood. 

• Prov. V. 12. 



Thorpe's Ancient Laws of England, I, p. 226. Anglo-Saxon and Latin. Also 
^«ncil. Greatanlea. can. vii and viii, in Harduin VI, col. 569. Latin. 928 A. D. 

If any one shall have given pledge to undergo the ordeal of iron 
e . . . ., let him go three days beforehand to the priest whose duty it 
is to bless him with the sign of the cross ; and let him live upon bread, 
water, salt and herbs, and hear mass each one of the three days ; and 
let him make his offering and go to the holy communion on the day 
when he is to be examined by the ordeal; and before he is examined 
let him swear that by the law of the realm he is innocent of the 

charge Concerning the ordeal we enjoin in the name of God 

and by the command of the archbishop and of all our bishops that 
no one enter the church after the fire has been brought in with which 
the ordeal is to be heated except the priest and him who is to undergo 
judgment. And let nine feet be measured off from the stake to the 

mark, by the feet of him who is to be tried And when the 

ordeal is ready let two men from each side go in and certify that it is 
as hot as we have directed it to be. Then let an equal number from 
both sides enter and stand on either side of the judgment place along 
the church, and let them all be fasting and abstinent from their wives 
on the preceding night. And let the priest sprinkle them all with 
water and let them bow themselves every one to the holy water and 
let the holy Gospel and the cross be given them all to kiss. And no 
one shall mend the fire any longer than the beginning of the hallowing, 
but let the iron lie on the coals until the last collect. Afterwards let 
it be placed on a frame, and let no one speak except to pray diligently 
to God, the Father Omnipotent, to deign to manifest His truth in the 
matter. And let the accused drink of the holy water and then let the 
hand with which he is about to carry the iron be sprinkled, and so 
let him go [to the ordeal]. Let the nine feet that were measured off 
be divided into three sections. In the first division let him hold his 
right foot, close to the stake. Then let him move his right foot across 
the second into the third division, where he shall cast the iron in front 
of him and hasten to the holy altar. Then let his hand be sealed up^ 
and on the third day let examination be made whether it is clean or 
foul * within the wrapper. And whoever shall transgress these laws, 

• A blister found on the hand was sufificient for conviction, in some cases at least. 
See Eng. Hist. Rev., Ill, p. 159. 


be the ordeal of no worth in his case, but let him pay the king a fine 
of twenty shillings. 


Annales Winton. ann. 1043, in Annales Monastici II, pp. 23, 24. R. S. Latin. 

This story, though evidently apocryphal,* was probably written about the end of 

the 1 2th century, and gives an idea of the ceremony as it was employed at that lime. 

The queen was brought at the king's command from Whewell to 

Winchester and throughout all the night preceding her trial she kept 

her vigil at the shrine of St. Swithin On the appointed day 

the clergy and the people came to the church and the king himself sat 
on the tribunal. The queen was brought before her son and questioned 
whether she was willing to go through with what she had undertaken. 
.... Nine glowing ploughshares were placed on the carefully swept 
pavement of the church. After these had been consecrated by a short 
ceremony the queen's shoes and stockings were taken off ; then her 
robe was removed and her cloak thrown aside, and, supported by two 
bishops, one on either side, she was led to the torture. The bishops 
who led her were weeping and those who were much more afraid than 
she were encouraging her not to fear. Uncontrollable weeping broke 
out all over the church and all voices were united in the cry ** St. 
Swithin, O St. Swithin, help her !" If the thunder had pealed forth at 
this time the people could not have heard it, with such strength, with 
such a concourse of voices did the shout go up to Heaven that St. 
Swithin should now or never hasten to her aid. God suffers violence 
and St. Swithin is dragged by force from Heaven. In a low voice the 
queen offered this prayer as she undertook the ordeal : ** O God, who 
didst free Susanna from the wicked elders and the three youths from 
the fiery furnace, from the fire prepared for me deign to preserve me 
through the merits of St. Swithin." 

Behold the miracle ! With the bishops directing her feet, in nine 
steps she walked upon the nine ploughshares, pressing each one of them 
with the full weight of her whole body ; and though she thus passed 
over them all, she neither saw the iron nor felt the heat. Therefore 
she said to the bishops : "Am I not to obtain that which I especially 
sought? Why do you lead me out of the church when I ought to be 
tried within it?" For she was going out and yet did not realize that 

See Freeman, Norman Conquest, II, p. 568. 



she had gone through the ordeal. To which the bishops replied as 
well as they could through their sobs : " O lady, behold, you have 
already done it; the deed is now accomplished which you think must 
yet be done." She gazed and her eyes were opened; then for the 
first time she looked about and understood the miracle. '' Lead me," 
she said, " to my son, that he may see my feet and know that I have 
suffered no ill." 


Raimond of Agiles, c. xviii. Recueil des Hist, des Crois., Hist. Occ, Vol. HI, p. 
283. Latin. Cf. also Fulk of Chartres, c. x, and Ralph of Caen, c. cviii. 

When the Holy Lance was discovered by Peter Bartholomew at Antioch during the 
first crusade, doubts as to the genuineness of the relic were expressed by Boemund 
and his followers. To silence these Peter was compelled to undergo the ordeal of 
fire to prove that it was really the spear wherewith the side of our Lord had been 
pierced. Raimond of Agiles was a firm believer in the relic. 

All these things were pleasing to us, and having enjoined 

on him [/. e., Peter Bartholomew,] a fast, we declaied tnat a fire 
should be prepared upon the day on which the Lord was beaten with 
stripes and put upon the cross for our salvation. And the fourth day 
thereafter was the day before the Sabbath. So when the appointed 
day came round a fire was prepared after the noon hour. The leaders 
and the people to the number of 60,000 came together ; the priests 
were there also with bare feet, clothed in ecclesiastical garments. 
The fire was made of dry olive branches, covering a space thirteen feet 
long ; and there were two piles with a space aboui a foot wide between 
them. The height of these piles was four feet. Now when the fire 
had been kindled so that it burned fiercely, I, Raimond, in presence 
of the whole multitude, spoke : " If Omnipotent God has spoken to 
this man face to face, and the blessed Andrew has shown him our 
Lord's lance while he was keeping his vigil, let him go through the fire 
unharmed. But if it is false let him be burned together with the lance 
which he is to carry in his hand." And all responded on bended 
knees, "Amen." The fire was growing so hot that the flames shot up 
thirty cubits high into the air and scarcely any one dared approach it. 
Then Peter Bartholomew clothed only in his tunic and kneeling before 
the bishop of Albar called to God to witness " that he had seen Him 
face to face on the cross, and that he had heard from Him those things 

above written " Then when the bishop had placed the lance in 

his hand, he knelt and made the sign of the cross and entered the 


fire with the lance, firm and unterrified. For an instant's time he 
paused in the midst of the flames, and then by the grace of God 

passed through But when Peter emerged from the fire so that 

neither his tunic was burned nor even the thin cloth with which the 
lance was wrapped up had shown any sign of damage, the whole 
people received him after that he had made over them the sign of the 
cross with the lance in his hand and had cried, " God aid us !" All 
the people, I say, threw themselves upon him and dragged him to the 
ground and trampled on him, each one wishing to touch him or to get 
a piece of his garment, and each thinking him near some one else. 
And so he received three or four wounds in the legs where the flesh 
was torn away, his back was injured and his sides bruised. Peter had 
died on the spot, as we believe, had not Raimond Pelet, a brave and 
noble soldier, broken through the wild crowd with a band of friends 

and rescued him at the peril of their lives After this * Peter 

died in peace at the hour appointed to him by God, and journeyed to 
the Lord ; and he was buried in the place where he had carried the 
lance of the Lord through the fire-t 


(a) Capitulary of Charles the Great. 
Charta di\'is., c. 14, Baluze: Capitularia I, col. 309. Latin. 
In the ordeal of the cross the two litigants were placed standing before a crucifix 
with their arms outstretched. The one who was able to maintain this position the 
longer won his case. This is the only form of ordeal in which both parties to the 
litigation were subjected to the same test. Consequently it partakes more of the na- 
ture of a duel, and does not leave so wide a discretion to the court. 

If a dispute, contention, or controversy shall arise between par- 
ties regarding the boundaries or limits of their kingdoms of such a 
nature that it cannot be settled or terminated by human evidence, 
then we desire that for the decision of the matter the will of God and 
the truth of the dispute may be sought by means of the judgment of 

* Twelve days later. 

+ A great controversy arose as to the cause of his death, his friends ascribing it to 
his rough treatment after the ordeal, his enemies declaring that it was due to the 
bums he had received. From the statement of the anonymous author of an abridge- 
ment to Fulk of Chartres to the effect that Peter did not live through two weeks fol- 
lowing the ordeal, but died on the twelfth day, it would seem that a fortnight was the 
period fixed by law within which the judgment of God was expected to manifest itself. 
Gesta Franc. Iherusalem expugnantium, c. XXVI. 


the cross, nor shall any sort of battle or duel ever be adjudged for the 
decision of any such question. 

(b) Capitulary of Louis le Debonnaire. 

Capit. EccL, ann. 8i8, c. 27. M.G. LL., vol. I, p. 209. Latin. 

It is enacted that hereafter no one shall presume to undertake any 

sort of ordeal of the cross ; lest that which was glorified by the passion 

of Christ should be brought into contempt through any one's temerity. 

Assize of Clarendon, § 14, in Gesta Heinrici IL, II, p. clii, R. S. Latin. 
Also the lord king wishes that those who shall make their law * and 
shall be acquitted by the law, if they be of very bad repute and evilly 
defamed by the testimony of many legal men, shall abjure the realm, 
so that within eight days they shall cross the sea unless the wind shall 
detain them ; and with the first wind they shall have thereafter they 
shall cross the sea ; and moreover they shall not return to England 
except by the grace of the king; and there let them be outlawed. 
And if they return let them be seized as outlaws. 


(a) Decree of Innocent III. 
Corp. Jut. Can., c. 9, Extra, III, 50 (Can. 18, Cone. Lateran. IV, ann. 1215). 

Also let no ecclesiastic be placed in command of low soldiery, or 
bowmen, or men of blood of that sort, nor let any subdeacon, deacon, 
or priest practice any office of surgery which requires burning or 
cutting. Nor let any one pronounce over the ordeal of hot or cold 
water or glowing iron any benediction or rite of consecration, regard 
being also paid to the prohibitions formerly promulgated respecting 
the single combat or duel. 

(b) Instructions of Henry III. to his judges in 1219. 
Rymer's Foedera (old ed.), I, p. 228. Latin. 

The king to his beloved and faithful Philip de Ulletot and his fellow 
judges traveling in the counties of Cumberland, Westmoreland, and 
Lancaster, greeting : Since it was doubtful and undetermined at the 
beginning of your eyre by what sort of judgment they ought to be 

* I. e., who shall be admitted to the ordeal. 



brought to trial who were accused of theft, murder, incendiarism, and 
similar crimes, inasmuch as the Roman Church has prohibited the 
judgment of fire and water, it is enacted by our council that in this 
your eyre the matter be thus conducted for the present in regard to 
those accused of such excesses. To wit, that those accused of the 
aforesaid major crimes, who may be strongly suspected of being guilty 
and regarding whom the suspicion might still be entertained that they 
would do harm should they be allowed to abjure the realm ; that such 
persons should be retained in our prison and guarded carefully that 
they may incur no danger of life or limb by occasion of our prison. 
But those who may be accused of moderate crimes, in whose cases the 
ordeal of fire or water would have been applicable had it not been 
prohibited, and who are not suspected of being liable to do harm 
afterwards if they should abjure our realm, let them abjure the realm. 
As to those, however, who may be accused of minor crimes, and who 
are not held in suspicion, let them give sure and sufficient pledge of 
fidelity and intention to keep the peace and so let them be dismissed. 
Since, therefore, our council has provided nothing more definite in 
this matter, we leave to your discretion to observe the aforesaid regula- 
tion, so that you who are better able to recognize the persons of the 
men, the form of the crime and the truth of the matter itself may 
proceed in this according to your conscience and discretion. 

(c) Edict of Pope Honorius in 1222 renewing the prohibition of the ordeal. 
Corp, Jur. Can. (ed. Friedberg), c. 3, Extra, V, 35. Latin. 
Our beloved sons recently baptized in Livonia have addressed a 
serious complaint to us that the Teutonic Knights of Livonia and 
certain other advocates and judges who exercise temporal power in the 
country, if ever the inhabitants are accused of any sort of crime, 
compel them to undergo the judgment of red-hot iron ; and if they 
suffer any burns from this, they inflict civil penalties on them much 
to the scandal and terror of the converts and of those about to be 
converted. Since, therefore, this sort of judgment has been utterly 
forbidden by legitimate and canonical decrees, inasmuch as God ap- 
pears thereby to be tempted, we command thee that, setting aside any 
appeal, and warning them by ecclesiastical censure, thou shouldst 
compel the said brothers and others to desist from all similar op- 
pression of the converts. 



Const. Sicular., Lib. II, Tit. 31. Huillard-BrehoUes : Hist. Dip. Frid., II, vol. 
IV, part I, p. 102. Latin. 

The laws which are called by certain ingenuous ipeisons paridi/es,* 
which neither regard nature nor give heed to the truth, We, who 
investigate the true science of laws and reject their errors, abolish from 
our tribunals ; forbidding by the edict published under sanction of our 
name all the judges of our kingdom ever to impose on any of our 
faithful subjects these paridt7es laws, which ought rather to be called 
laws that conceal the truth ; but let them be content with ordinary 
proofs such as are prescribed in the ancient laws and in our constitu- 
tions. Indeed, we consider that they deserve ridicule raiher than 
instruction who have so little understanding as to believe that the 
natural heat of red-hot iron grows mild, nay (what is more foolish), 
even turns to coldness without the working of an adequate cause ; or 
who assert that on account of a troubled conscience alone a criminal 
does not sink into the cold water, when rather it is the holding in of 
sufificient air that does not allow of his being submerged.! 


The practice of appealing to the judgment of God to settle questions which it 
transcended man's wisdom to decide is of prehistoric origin. When the Gennans 
invaded the empire a great impetus was given this custom by the resulting complica- 
tions in legal relations. The theory of the personality of the law made it difficult, if 
not impossible, to equitably decide questions arising between subjects of two different 
races by any other method than an appeal to divine justice, and hence we find the 
ordeal and wager of battle greatly extended and its procedure adopted and system- 
atized by the church. In this way the latter obtained great influence over the minds 
of the barbarians, and added largely to its power and revenues by assuming control of 
the administration of justice. The ordeal continued to flourish until the 13th century, 
when the developing national monarchies gradually forced it to give way. The papal 
influence, likewise thrown on the side of the reform, materially aided the movement 
in spite of the opposition of the local clergy. The wager of battle, however, though 
even more strenuously opposed by the church, did not meet with the same hostility 
from the secular authorities, and is to be met with occasionally as late as the i6th 
century. In England it was not formally abolished until 1819. 

* Lex paribilis, from a duel or combat of peers or champions. Ducange. 
t This last clause is supposed to refer to some artifice whereby those conducting the 
ordeal secured a conviction when they so desired. 


Wiponis Vita Chuonradi Imp., c. 33, ann. 1033. M.G. SS., XI, p. 271. 
The emperor having levied a force in Saxony marched upon the 
Luitzes,t a people who were formerly half Christians but who have 
wickedly apostatized and are now become thorough pagans. In their 
district he put an end to an implacable strife in a wonderful manner. 
Between the Saxons and the pagans at that time fighting and raids 
were being carried on incessantly, and when the emperor came he 
began to inquire which side had first broken the peace that had long 
been observed inviolate between them. The pagans said that the 
peace had been disturbed first by the Saxons, and they would prove 
this by the duel if the emperor would so direct. On the other side 
the Saxons pledged themselves to refute the pagans in like manner by 
single combat, though as a matter of fact their contention was untrue. 
The emperor after consulting his princes permitted the matter to be 
settled between them by a duel, though this was not a very wise act. 
Two champions, each selected by his own side, immediately engaged. 
The Christian, trusting in his faith alone, though faith without the 
works of justice is dead, began the attack fiercely without diligently 
considering that God, who is the Truth, who maketh His sun to shine 
upon the evil and the good, and the rain to fall upon the just and the 
unjust, decides all things by a true judgment. The pagan on the other 
hand resisted stoutly, having before his eyes only the consciousness of 
the truth for which he was fighting. Finally the Christian fell wounded 
by the pagan. Thereupon his party were seized with such elation and 
presumption that, had the emperor not been present, they would forth- 
with have rushed upon the Christians ; but the emperor constructed 
the fortress Werben in which he placed a garrison of soldiers to check 
their incursions and bound the Saxon princes by an oath and by the 
imperial commands to a unanimous resistance against the pagans. 
Then he returned to Franconia.J 

* For a good example of the judicial duel under Otto I. see Widukind, Saxon 
Chronicle, ann. 938, trans, in Emerton's Introduction to the Middle Ages^ p. 83. 

t A Wendish tribe living on the east side of the river Elbe. 

X For a discussion of this incident see Jahrbiicher d. deutschen Geschichte, Konrad 
II., II, 94 sq. 



Rodericus Toletanus, Lib. VI, c. 26. Bel: Rerum Hispanic. Script., I, p. 241. 
Latin. 13th century. 

The old Gothic or Mozarabic ritual long preserved its place in the churches of 
Spain, but Gregory VH. on his accession determined to substitute the Roman in place 
of the old national service in Castile and Leon. The supporters of the papal policy 
were not at first able to carry their point by means of argument, and resort was had 
to single combat between champions, one representing the Roman, the other the 
Gothic ritual.* 

But before the recall [of the legate Richard] the clergy and people 
of all Spain were thrown into confusion by being compelled by the 
legate and the prince to accept the Gallic ritual. On an appointed 
day the king, the primate, the legate, the clergy, and a vast multitude 
of people came together and a long altercation took place, the clergy, 
soldiery and people firmly resisting a change in the service, the king, 
under the influence of the queen, supporting the change with threats 
and menaces. Finally the demands of the soldiers brought matters 
to such a crisis that it was decided to settle the dispute by a duel. 
When two soldiers had been selected, one by the king, who contended 
for the Gallic ritual, the other by the soldiery and people, who were 
equally zealous for the ritual of Toledo, the king's champion was de- 
feated on the spot to the exultation of the people, because the victor 
was the champion of the Toledo service. But the king was so far 
persuaded by queen Constantia that he did not recede from his de- 
mands, adjudging the duel to be of no weight And when 

thereupon a great tumult arose among the soldiers and the people, 
it was finally decided that a copy of the Toledo ritual, and one of 
the Gallic should be placed in a great fire. When a fast had been 
imposed upon all by the primate, legate, and clergy, and all had 
devoutly prayed, the Gallic office was consumed by the fire, while the 
Gothic leaped np above the flames and was seen by all who stood 
there praising the Lord to be wholly uninjured and untouched by the 
fire. But since the king was obstinate and stiff-necked he would not 
turn aside either through fear of the miracle or through suppHcation of 
the people, but, threatening confiscation and death against those who 
resisted, he ordered the Gallic office to be adopted in all his dominions. 
Whence arose from the grief and sorrow of all the proverb, Quo volunt 
RegeSj vadunt Leges, 

* See Hefele, Conciliengeschichte, V, pp. 158 and 200. 



Const. Sicular., Lib. II, Tit. 33. H.-BrehoUes: Op. cit., vol. IV, part I, p. 105. 

We will that the single combat, or duel, as it is commonly called, 
shall never be adjudged between men subject to our jurisdiction, 
except in a few specified cases ; for it cannot be called so much a 
real proof as a sort of divination, which is not in accord with nature 
but is opposed to universal law and inconsistent with just reason. For 
it is almost if not quite impossible for two champions to come together 
so equally matched that the one is not wholly superior to the other in 
strength or does not excel him in some other way by greater vigor and 
courage or at least in cleverness. But we exclude from the benefit of 
this humane edict murderers who are charged with having caused the 
death of others by using poison or some other secret means; and even 
■against these we do not sanction the wager of battle at the beginning 
of the trial, but command that ordinary proofs be first adduced against 
them if there be any such at hand, and that only then, as a last resort, 
when the crime cannot be fully established by other proofs after a 
thorough investigation by the officials of the court, resort may be had 
to the judgment of battle to decide the above charges : and we wish 
all these things to be arranged through the medium of a judge fully 
cognizant of the proceedings, that he may carefully and diligently 
investigate the proofs brought out by the inquisition. And if the 
charges shall not be proved as stated let him grant the accuser per- 
mission to offer battle, if nothing was brought out in court prejudicial 
to the accuser's right. But if the accuser should first offer to prove 
the crime by witnesses and their testimony should be insufficient, the 
trial shall not take place by the double method of inquisition and battle, 
but the defendant, not being convicted of guilt and being presumably 
innocent, shall be set free ; because we wish the same law to be 
observed among all, both Franks and Lombards, and in all cases. 
In our new constitution, indeed, wager of battle has been sufficiently 
recognized in the case of the knights and nobles of our kingdom and 
of others wno are able to offer battle. For we except the crime of 
treason, respecting which we preserve the judicial duel. Nor is it 
strange if we subject traitors, secret murderers and poisoners to the 
duel (though not so much as a method of judgment as to terrify them) ; 
not because our Serenity deems that just in their case which it has 
declared unjust in others, but because we desire that such homicides 


as have not feared to lay secret plots against human life, which God's 
power alone can call into existence, should be publicly subjected to this 
terrible method of proof in the sight of all men as a punishment and 
an example to others. Those also we exclude from the terms of our 
leniency who do not hesitate to plot against our peace in which the 
peace of all the rest is involved. 


The church as a voluntary organization had from the beginning exercised the right 
of excluding from its membership those who did not conform to its standards, but it 
was not until Cyprian's time that this came to be generally looked upon as equivalent 
to exclusion from salvation. As the theory of the church's true mission developed in 
the minds of its leaders, the field of excommunication rapidly expanded and the tone 
of its priesthood grew more certain. This change is well shown by comparing St. 
Ambrose's mild remonstrance against Theodosius with the haughty attitude of the 
popes of the 12th and 13th centuries, and by noting how the state was compelled to 
support by civil penalties the sentence of the church. Finally excommunication came 
to be looked upon as Httle more than a ban or curse which could be employed by 
the clergy to avenge their private wrongs, to strengthen contracts, or even to punish 
animals or demons. The abuses to which the system gave rise became so great that 
even before the Reformation the censure had lost much of its force, and since that 
time it has been less and less employed. 

De Unitate Ecclesise, § 6, in Migne, Pat. Lat., vol. IV, col. 502, 503. 

The spouse of Christ cannot be an adulteress, she is uncorrupted 
and pure. She knows but one house, she watches over the sanctity of 
one couch with chaste modesty. She preserves us for God; she 
confers the kingdom on the son whom she has brought forth. Whoso- 
ever separates himself from the church and is joined to an adulteress 
is separated from the promises of the church ; nor will he attain to 
the rewards of Christ who deserts Christ's church. He is an alien, he 
is profane, he is an enemy. He can no longer have God for his father 
who has not the church for his mother. If any one could escape who 
was outside the ark of Noah, so also may he escape who shall be out- 
side the bounds of the church. 

Epist. LI, §§ 11-13, in Migne, Pat. Lat., vol. XVI, col. 1162, 1163. Latin. 
I have written these things, indeed, not to confound you, but that 
the example of these kings might induce you to put away this sin from 



your kingdom, which you will accomplish by humiliating your soul to 
God. You are a man and temptation has come to you ; confess it. 
Sin is not put away except by tears and penitence. Neither an angel 
can do it nor an archangel ; the Lord himself, who alone can say, " I 
am with you," does not forgive us if we have sinned except we be 

I persuade, I beg, I exhort, I admonish; because it is a grief to me 
that you who were an example of unusual piety, who were the very 
personification of clemency, who would not allow guilty individuals to 
be brought into danger, that you do not grieve at the death of so many 
innocent persons. Although you have fought battles most successfully, 
although in other things also you are worthy of praise, yet the crown 
of all your work was always piety. This the devil envied you, since it 
was your ever-present possession. Conquer him while as yet you have 
wherewith you may conquer. Do not add another sin to your sin, 
that you may practice what it has injured many to practice. 

I, indeed, though in all other things a debtor to your kindness which 
I can never be ungrateful for, which kindness surpassed that of many 
emperors and was equaled by the kindness of one only, I, I say, 
have no cause for a charge of contumacy against you, but I have a 
cause for fear ; I dare not offer the sacrifice if you will to be present. 
Is that which is not allowed after shedding the blood of one innocent 
person to be allowed after shedding the blood of many? I do not 
think so. 


(a) Law of Lothair I. in 824. 

Leges Langobard. cap. 15, M.G. LL., IV, p. 542. Latin. 

It had always been the policy of the Carolingians to enforce the decrees of the 
church, but this is the first general direction to counts to assist the bishops with 
secular penalties. 

It is our will, so often as any person shall be brought to trial for any 
crimes or misdemeanors and his contumacy shall render him liable even 
to the episcopal excommunication, that the bishop shall associate with 
himself the count of his district so that the obstinate offender may be 
forced by the united action of both to render obedience to the com- 
mand of the bishop. If he does not obey let him pay us our fine ; 
but if he still remains contumacious let him be excommunicated by the 
bishop. Then if he shall refuse to amend his w^ys after being excom- 
municated, let him be bound and imprisoned by the count until we 


render our judgment against the hardened offender. If, however, it 
be the count who is the guilty party, let his bishop report him to us; 
and if the culprit be an imperial vassal, let the count proceed against 
him as above directed ; but if he will not hear, let him be reported to 
us before he is cast into prison. 

(b) Enactment of Frederic II. in 1220. 

Confoederatio cum Princip. Ecclesiast., §§ 6-8, M.G. LL., II, p. 236. Latin. 

Also we will avoid the company of excommunicated persons, as it 
is right we should do, provided that they are denounced to us by word 
of mouth or by letters or by messengers worthy of confidence ; and 
unless absolution be previously granted we will not concede them any 
standing in our courts : this distinction, however, being made, that 
excommunication shall not hinder them from appearing as defendants, 
though without advocates ; but it shall take away from them the right 
and power of acting as judges or witnesses, or of bringing suit against 

And since the temporal sword was made subsidiary to the spiritual, 
if it be made known to us in any of the foregoing ways that the excom- 
municates have persisted in their contumacy for more than six week^ 
our proscription shall be added to the excommunication, nor is it to 
be withdrawn unless the excommunication be previously recalled. 

So in this manner and in all other ways, that is to say, by just and 
efficacious judgment, we have solemnly promised to aid and defend 
them [the clergy], and they on their side have pledged their faith to 
assist us to the extent of their power against any man who may offer 
violent resistance to any such judgment of ours. 


OF LYONS, 1245. 

Harduin, Concilia, VII, col. 3&5, 386. Latin. 
[Innocent recapitulates the efforts of the popes to maintain peace 
between the church and the empire and dwells upon the sins of the 
emperor. Then, after charging him with the particular crimes of per- 
jury, sacrilege, heresy, and tyranny, he proceeds as follows ;] — We, 
therefore, on account of his aforesaid crimes and of his many other 
nefarious misdeeds, after careful deliberation with our brethren and 
with the holy council, acting however unworthily as the vicar of Jesus 
Christ on earth and knowing how it was said to us in the person of the 



blessed apostle Peter, Whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound 
in heaven; We announce and declare the said prince to be bound 
because of his sins and rejected by the Lord and deprived of all honor 
and dignity, and moreover by this sentence we hereby deprive him of 
the same since he has rendered himself so unworthy of ruling his king- 
dom and so unworthy of all honors and dignity ; for, indeed, on account 
of his iniquities he has been rejected of God that he might not reign 
or exercise authority. All who have taken the oath of fidelity to him 
we absolve forever from such oath by our apostolic authority, absolutely 
forbidding any one hereafter to obey him or look upon him as emperor 
or king. Let those whose duty it is to select a new emperor proceed 
freely with the election. But it shall be our care to piovide as shall 
seem fitting to us for the kingdom of Sicily with the council of our 
brothers, the cardinals. 


Found in Giry, Manuel de Diplomatique, p. 564. 
It was usual for mediaeval legal documents, and especially for deeds of gift, to con- 
tain clauses excommunicating latae senieniiae any who might venture to infringe in 
any way upon the provisions contained in the document. 

Now if any one shall think to infringe on this deed of gift or bring a 
false action against it, may he be seized with jaundice and smitten 
with blindness; may he bring his present life to a miserable ending by 
a most wretched death and undergo everlasting damnation with the 
devil, where bound with red-hot chains, may he groan forever and ever, 
and may the worm that never dies feed on his flesh, and the fire that 
cannot be quenched be his food and sustenance eternally. 

Found in Du Cange, Glossarium, s. v. Excommunicatio. 
Examples of the excommunication of animals are not met with frequently in mediaeval 
records, and then usually only in remote and unenlightened districts. They show, 
however, the tendency of excommunication to become a mere curse or magic rite, 
and emphasize one of the abuses of the system which gradually threw discredit upon 
it and caused the church to restrict it to narrower limits. 

In the name of the Lord, Amen. Complaint having been made in 
court by the inhabitants of Villenoce in the diocese of Troyes against 
the locusts and caterpillars and other such animals, called in the vulgar 
tongue HurebecSy that have laid waste the vineyards of that place for 


several years, and continue to do so, as is asserted on the testimony of 
credible witnesses and by public rumor, to the great detriment of the 
inhabitants of that and neighboring regions; and their request having 
been considered that the aforesaid animals should be warned by us and 
compelled by threats of ecclesiastical punishment to depart from the 
territory of said town, etc. We, by the authority that we exercise in 
this region, warn the aforesaid locusts, caterpillars and other animals, 
under whatsoever name known, by these presents, under threat of 
curses and excommunication to depart from the vineyards and land of 
the said town of Villenoce by virtue of this sentence within six days 
from the publication of this warning and to do no further injury either 
there or elsewhere in the diocese of Troyes. But, if the above men- 
tioned animals do not implicitly obey this our warning within the 
specified time, then at the expiration of the six days by virtue of our 
said authority we excommunicate them through this document and 
curse them by the same. 

Given in Michaud, Louis XIV. et Innocent XL, T. IV, p. 68. French. 
Inasmuch as St. Peter and his successors, the vicars of Jesus Christ, 
and even the whole church, have received power from God only over 
spiritual things which concern salvation, and not at all over temporal 
and civil affairs, since Jesus Christ Himself teaches that His kingdom 
is not of this world and that we should re?ider tmto Ccesar the things 
which are Ccesar' s a?td unto God the things that are God^s ; and since, 
likewise, this precept of the apostle Paul can in no way be altered or 
called into question: Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers » 
For there is 710 power but of God : the powers that be are ordained of 
God. Whosoever the?'efore resisteth the power resisteth the o?'dinance 
of God. Therefore we declare that princes and kings are not subject 
by God's command to any ecclesiastical power in temporal things ; 
that they cannot be deposed either directly or indirectly by the 
authority of the heads of the church; that their subjects cannot be 
granted dispensation to refuse the allegiance and obedience which they 
owe, or absolved from the oath of fidelity; and that this doctrine 
indispensable to public peace and not less advantageous to the church 
than to the state, must be invariably followed as conforming to the 
Word of God, to the traditions of the holy Fathers, and to the example 
of the saints. 



Interdict is a censure that deprives the faithful of the use of most of the sacra- 
ments, of participation in the celebration of the divine offices, and of ecclesiastical 
sepulture. It is differentiated from excommunication in that it does not entail segre- 
gation or exclusion from church membership, so that those on whom it is laid are not 
thereby handed over to Satan. It was employed especially to coerce princes, as it 
was the most effective means of exciting public indignation and arousing a people 
against its ruler. The interdict grew out of a wide use of excommunication, and was 
first employed by the clergy of northern France in the turbulent period following the 
extinction of the Carolingian dynasty. At first it was looked upon with little favor by 
the popes, but by the beginning of the 12th century they had adopted it as one of 
their most effective instruments in dealing with the European states. The wide range 
of the papal activity tended to bring the censure more and more into use as a political 
weapon, and at length it ceased almost entirely to be employed as a punishment for 
immorahty. As the censure became thus secularized its influence decreased, until 
finally the state, relpng upon the loyalty of its citizens, took advantage of their indif- 
ference to spiritual punishments and dared openly to defy the papal commands. The 
last important instance of its use was when the pope laid an interdict on Venice in 
1606. By that date it was felt to be an anachronism; it had not been previously 
employed for a long time, and owing to its complete failure in this case it was hence- 
forth little used. Since then only a few instances of interdict have been known, 
occurring mostly in Spain and Spanish America.* 

Harduin, Concilia, VI, col. 885, 886. Latin. 
If they do not keep the peace lay the whole territory of Limoges 
under a public excommunication : J to wit, in such manner that no 
one unless a priest or a beggar or a traveler or an infant of two years 
or less may be buried in all Limoges or be carried into another diocese 
for burial. Let divine service be celebrated secretly in all the 
churches, and let baptism be given those that seek it. About the 
third hour let the bells be sounded in all the churches and let all, 
throwing themselves prone on the ground, pour forth prayers for peace 
because of their tribulation. Let confession and the viaticum be 

♦ For a vivid description of the workings of an interdict see Hurter's Innocenz III., 
I, p. 348 ff . This is not an account of a real interdict, but a mosaic made by piec- 
ing together the provisions of many censures. 

tThis measure was proposed as a punishment for any infractions of the Peace of 
God on the part of the nobles. 

X It will be observed that the technical use of the word interdict had not yet been 


allowed in the extremity of death. Let the altars in all the churches 
be stripped, as on Good Friday ; and let the crucifixes and ornaments 
be veiled as a sign of sorrow and mourning to all. Let each priest 
celebrate the mass behind locked doors, and then only may the altars 
be decorated, to be stripped again at the close of the service. Let 
no one marry him a wife during the continuance of this excommunica- 
tion. Let no one give another a kiss. Let no one in all Limoges 
either of the clergy or of the laity, whether sojourners in the land or 
travelers, eat meat or any other food except what is allowed in Lent. 
Let no one of the clergy or of the laity have his hair cut or be shaved, 
until such time as the barons, the leaders of the people, show obe- 
dience to the holy council in all things. And if it shall be proved 
that any one has violated this law let him not be received except after 
fitting penance. For the excommunication of the bishops is to be 
especially observed lest perchance the wrath of the Lord should fall 
upon us and upon the people. 


Ordericus Vitalis, Hist. Eccl., Lib. XIII, c. 28, ed. Le Prevost, vol. V, p. 79. Latin. 
This interdict was laid to " terrify and restrain the perverse and disorderly inhabit- 
ants," who in the anarchy following the death of Henry I. ravaged and plundered 
each other's land to an almost incredible extent. 

And now a still more serious misfortune threatened Normandy with 
many kinds of evil. In the bishopric of S^ez an anathema * was laid 
on all the lands of William Talvas, and there was no longer heard the 
sweet chant of divine service, a sound that calms and gladdens the 
hearts of the faithful. The people were forbidden to enter the churches 
for the purpose of worshipping God, and the doors were locked. The 
music of the bells was silenced and the bodies of the dead lay un- 
buried and putrifying, striking the beholders with fear and horror. 
The pleasures of marriage were denied to those desiring them and the 
solemn joys of the church services were no longer known. In the 
diocese of Evreux also a like discipline was inflicted, which hardly 
restrained by its terrors the disorders in the terrritory of Roger de 

• In one MS. it is spoken of as papal anathema. 

(NTERuICl 29 


Martdne, Thesaurus Anecdot., IV, p. 147. Latin. 

In 1 193 Philip Augustus married Ingeburg of Denmark, but divorced her on the 
very day following the ceremony. Pope Innocent III. refused to sanction the decree, 
and when, three years later, Philip married Agnes of Meran he found the whole power 
of Rome directed against him. He refused to yield, and finally in 1200 the pope laid 
all France under the interdict from January to September, when the king was forced 
to give way. See Geraud, •' Ingeburge de Danemark," in Biblioth^que de I'Ecole 
des Chartes, T. I., 2d series, pp. 1-27 and 93-118. 

Let all the churches be closed ; let no one be admitted to them 
except to baptize infants; let them not be otherwise opened except 
for the purpose of lighting the lamps, or when the priest shall come for 
the Eucharist and holy water for the use of the sick. We permit mass 
to be celebrated once a week on Friday early in the morning to con- 
secrate the Host for the use of the sick, but only one clerk is to be 
admitted to assist the priest. Let the clergy preach on Sunday in the 
vestibules of the churches, and in place of the mass let them dissemi- 
nate the word of God. Let them recite the canonical hours outside 
the churches, where the people do not hear them ; if they recite an 
epistle or a gospel let them beware lest the laity hear them ; and let 
them not permit the dead to be interred, nor their bodies to be placed 
unburied in the cemeteries. Let them, moreover, say to the laity that 
they sin and transgress grievously by burying bodies in the earth, even 
in unconsecrated ground, for in so doing they arrogate to themselves 
an office pertaining to others. Let them forbid their parishioners to 
enter churches that may be open in the king's territory, and let them 
not bless the wallets of pilgrims except outside the churches. Let 
them not celebrate the offices in Passion week, but refrain even till 
Easter day, and then let them celebrate in private, no one being 
admitted except the assisting priest, as above directed ; let no one 
communicate even at Easter, except he be sick and in danger of death. 
During the same week, or on Palm Sunday, let them announce to their 
parishioners that they may assemble on Easter morning before the 
church and there have permission to eat flesh and consecrated bread. 
Women are expressly forbidden to be admitted into the churches for 
purification, but are to be warned to gather their neighbors together 
on the day of purification and pray outside the church, nor may the 
women who are to be purified enter even to raise their children to 
the sacred font of baptism until they are admitted by the priest aftei 


the expiration of the interdict. Let the priest confess all who desire 
it in the portico of the church; if the church have no portico we 
direct that in bad or rainy weather, and not otherwise, the nearest door 
of the church may be opened and confessions heard on its threshold 
(all being excluded except the one who is to confess) so that the priest 
and the penitent can be heard by those who are outside the church.* 
If, however, the weather be fair, let the confession be heard in front 
of the closed doors. Let no vessels of holy water be placed outside 
of the church, nor shall the priests carry them anywhere, for all the 
sacraments of the church beyond these two which were reserved f are 
absolutely prohibited. Extreme unction, which is a holy sacrament^ 
may not be given. 

Baronius' Annales, sub an. 1309, § 6. Latin. 
The Venetians and the church having both laid claim to Ferrara the former pro- 
ceeded to make good their rights by occupying the city with an armed force. The 
pope replied by laying an interdict on Venice and declaring all debts owing her citi- 
zens to be forfeited. Other countries were invited to attack her commerce, and 
Edward II. of England, with other rulers, took occasion to repudiate his Venetian 
debts. Owing to the attacks on her trade and banking Venice was forced to yield 
entirely k) the pope's demands. 

And since a just quarrel had arisen because of such great sin on the 
part of the doge of Venice and the Venetian senate he J smote them 
with the anathema, especially mentioning by name Giovanni Soranza 
who had wrested the domain of Ferrara away from the church, and 
Vitali Michieli who was ruling Ferrara in the name of the republic,. 
and ordered them to restore the rule of the Roman church. He de- 
prived all the Venetian territory of the use of the sacraments and of 
the rights of trade; he branded the magistrates with infamy and 
pronounced them deprived of the benefits and privileges of the law; 
and ordered ecclesiastics to leave the Venetian domains except such 
as were needed to baptize infants and to receive the confessions of 
the dying. Finally, if they persisted in their present course beyond 
the time fixed for submission, he pronounced the doge deprived of his- 
authority and all the property of the Venetians confiscated, and de- 

* Geraud remarks that this was almost equivalent to a formal prohibition of con- 

+ 1. e., infant baptism and the viaticum. 
X Pope Clement V. 



clared that the kings of Europe would be summoned to direct their 
arms against them until they should restore Ferrara to the church. 

Matthaeus' edition of the Cronica de Trajecto, 2d ed., V, p. 456. Latin. 
The growing use of the interdict for purely political purposes is here shown, and 
indicates the chief reason for the declining force of the censure. 

Now it is remarkable that this decree should have been passed not- 
withstanding the fact that the pope had deprived the city of the sacra- 
ments and pronounced an interdict upon it on account of its having 
received Rudolph ; especially if you consider that not only is nothing 
severer than a papal interdict, but that nothing is likelier to stir up the 
common people against their magistrates and superiors. For under 
such circumstances the churches are closed, there are no divine services* 
no chants are heard, nor is there mass, nor do the faithful assemble 
together. There are no sacraments there, or confession, no baptism of 
any except infants. Even burial is forbidden. All become the prey 
of Satan. The credulous people are persuaded that it is in the pope's 
power either to raise them to heaven or cast them down into hell. 
And yet neither the city nor the clergy paid any attention to these 
things. The pope's interdict was held in contempt and the clergy 
continued unhesitatingly to conduct divine services, especially after 
both the city and the nobles had promised to guard and protect them 
against all, even against the pope. 


English translation found in Trollope's " Paul the Pope and Paul the Friar," pp. 
381, 382. 

Original Latin text in Magnum Bullarium Romanum, Tom, X (Ed. Luxemburgi, 
1741), pp. 177, 178. 

In his prolonged quarrel with Venice pope Paul V. attempted to compel the repeal 
of two obnoxious laws by laying an interdict on the city, but this last serious attempt 
of the papacy to enforce its decrees by a general censure broke down before the de- 
termined opposition of the republic. 

Leonardo Donato, by the Grace of God doge of Venice, etc., etc., 
to the most reverend, the patriarchs, archbishops and bishops of all 
our Venetian domains, etc., etc., greeting : 

It has come to our knowledge that on the 17 th of April last past, 
by the order of the most holy father, Pope Paul V., there was published 
and posted up in Rome a so-called brief, which was fulminated against 


US, our senate, and the whole of ou-r state ; and that one was addressed 
to you, the tenor and contents whereof were similar to those of the 
other. We therefore find ourselves constrained to preserve in peace 
and tranquility the state which God has given us to rule; and, in 
order to maintain our authority as a prince, who in temporal matters 
recognizes no superior saving the Divine Majesty, we, by these our 
public letters, do protest before the Lord God and the whole world 
that we have not failed to use every possible means to make his Holi- 
ness understand our most valid and irrefragable case ; first, by means 
of our ambassador residing at the court of his Holiness; then, by 
letters of ours in answer to briefs addressed to us by his Holiness ; 
and, lastly, by a special ambassador sent to him to this effect. But 
having found the ears of his Holiness closed against us and seeing 
that the brief aforesaid is published contrary to all right reason and 
contrary to the teaching of the divine Scriptures, the doctrine of the 
holy fathers, and the sacred canons, to the prejudice of the secular 
authority given us by God, and of the Hberty of our state, inasmuch 
as it would cause disturbance in the quiet possessions which, by divine 
Grace, under our government our faithful subjects hold of their prop- 
erties, their honor and their lives, and occasion a most grave and 
universal scandal throughout the state ; We do not hesitate to consider 
the said brief not only as unsuitable and unjust, but as null and void 
and of no worth or value whatever, and being thus invalid, vain, and 
unlawfully fulminated, de facto nulla juris ordine servato^ we have 
thought fit to use in resisting it the remedies adopted by our ancestors 
and by other sovereign princes against such pontiffs as, in using the 
power given them by God to the use of edifying, have overstepped 

their due limits And we pray the Lord God to inspire him 

[the pope] with a sense of the invalidity and nullity of his brief and 
of the other acts committed against us, and that He, knowing the 
justice of our cause, may give us strength to maintain our reverence 
foi the holy apostolic see, whose most devoted servants we and our 
predecessors, together with this republic, have been and ever shall be. 


Lea, Henry C. : Superstition and Force : Essays on the Wager of Law— 
the Wager of Battle— the Ordeal— Torture. Philadelphia, 4th ed., 1892. 
The best concise treatment in any language of the methods of mediaeval legal pro- 
cedure. The last edition of this work has been greatly enlarged by the author, who 



has taken iMto account the researches of other modern scholars in this field, correcting 
and supplementing their views from the wealth of his own learning. No student, 
either of mediaeval life and thought or of legal history, can afford to be without this 

Patetta : Le Ordalie. Torino, 1890. 

This is a full and judicious treatment of the subject of the judgments of God from 
primitive Aryan times down, with a full citation of authorities. 

Neilson: Trial by Combat. New York, 1891. 

A popular but accurate discussion of the judicial duel in England and Scotland. 
The author has drawn his account wholly from the original authorities, and has enliv- 
ened the subject by many picturesque incidents from trials and combats. 

Thayer, James Bradley: A Preliminary Treatise on Evidence at the Com- 
mon Law, Part I., Development of Trial by Jury. Boston, 1896. 
The first chapter of this very scholarly work is on Older Modes of Trial, and gives 
a short but clear description of early English legal procedure. 

Brunner, H. : Deutsche Rechtsgeschichte. Leipzig, 1892. 

Two sections of this work contain much material relating to judgments of God, — 
§ 23, Der Rechtsgang, and § 106, Die Gottesurteile. To the latter section is pre- 
fixed a careful bibliography of works dealing with this subject. 

Hinschius, Paul: Das Kirchenrecht der Katholiker und Protestanten in 
Deutschland. Berlin, 1895. 
The fifth volume of this the most satisfactory work on the ecclesiastical law of Ger- 
many contains much material for the study of excommunication and interdict. Pages 
1-51 and 493-563 relate directly to these subjects. 

Lea, Henry C. : Studies in Church History. Philadelphia, 1883. 

More than half of this book is taken up by an essay on excommunication, the most 
complete and satisfactory treatment of the subject that we possess. In it the rise and 
development of the censure are traced, the abuses that grew out of it are noted, and 
its gradual decline is explained. 


''' 3 9358 01 46M 

P - 

P^-^nnsylvnnia., . ty . Danartment of 
Trn!ir, Inttons nnc! reprints from the 
original nources of Kuroncin histrory. 189'r 

158696 V.4, no. 4 


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